Marketing Violence in a Violent Age

It's guns a-blazin' as campaigns for "Total Recall," "Expendables 2" and "Bourne Legacy" are under way while audiences in real life still are recoiling from the mayhem.

In the wake of the Dark Knight Rises massacre, Hollywood has no plans to lay down its arms for even a temporary ceasefire in the bullet-riddled realm of marketing action movies. In fact, the distributors behind the upcoming summer movies with the greatest amount of gunplay in their campaigns -- Sony's Total Recall (Aug. 3), Universal's The Bourne Legacy (Aug. 10), Lionsgate's The Expendables 2 (Aug. 17) and The Weinstein Co.'s Lawless (Aug. 29) -- are moving forward with their trailers, TV spots and posters unaltered.

The Bourne campaign, which features key art with star Jeremy Renner aiming a pistol at close range and trailers with Renner and Rachel Weisz brandishing heat, will remain status quo, says a Universal source. Similarly, trailers for Total Recall boast copious amounts of gunfire coming from futuristic weapons aimed at "us." This, despite the fact that, according to the MPAA's Advertising Administration rules, "Advertising deemed appropriate for all audiences shall not include … depiction of violence involving weapons, including but not limited to: excessive gunfire or weapons around children [or] weapons pointed directly at people or the audience."

Nevertheless, the studio is holding firm with its current campaign and has no plans to tone down the gunfire in its trailers.

Lionsgate declined comment on its guns-a-blazin' Expendables prints-and-advertising effort. A source says Lionsgate will not pursue any midnight screenings on opening day -- perhaps the only nod to the Dark Knight Rises midnight screening bloodshed.

Meanwhile, The Weinstein Co. did not return calls by press time about the spots for its bootlegger drama, Lawless, though one of them includes a rather gruesome depiction of part of a man's head being shot off.

Even without raising the ire of the MPAA -- which refuses to comment on specific films -- distributors must walk a tightrope with would-be moviegoers in the coming weeks, given that images of the Colorado theater rampage likely will dominate news coverage. But, as one marketing guru explains, once trailers are cut and billboards printed, it becomes prohibitively expensive to reverse course.

Though pricey, tweaking distribution plans and campaigns in response to current events is nothing new. In the days following Sept. 11, 2001, Warner Bros. pushed back Arnold Schwarzenegger's Collateral Damage by four months. More recently, 20th Century Fox changed the name of its upcoming comedy from Neighborhood Watch to The Watch after Trayvon Martin's death.